Today we mark the celebration of a precious friend who is now sitting at the feet of Jesus. Her life was marked by a sweetness that only comes from spending time in the Word and serving Jesus moment by moment and she left her footprints in our lives and others with her ministry to the shut ins along with her card ministry to those who celebrated their special days. She lived in one home for many years and served in her home church and community in that time frame as well. As we celebrate today we will hear the words of those who knew her for many years and they will recollect and will share their memories. Acts 20 is like a celebration of memories as Paul who was “always on the go” and lived out of a suitcase was once again leaving. He will leave his footprints where he ministered for several years but God was calling him to Jerusalem even though the Spirit has told him that with that persecution awaits. Our special friend and Paul alike left us “instructions” which included:
- Remain steadfast.
- Raise up faithful men and women to pass the torch on to others.
- Recall memories of sweet fellowship: Paul ministered with humility, tears and trials and therefore we should seek to serve in likewise manner.
- Remember your calling: do not consider your life worth just a moment in time but consider that you have a task to finish which is to testify to the good news of God’s grace.
- Renew the charge: now I entrust you to God and to the message of his grace. This message is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
Yes, they were especially saddened by what he had said that they were not going to see him again. Yet they were encouraged that although they would remain in Ephesus and Paul would be “on the go” once again, the ministry would go forward and the book of Revelation reveals to us how that actually took place as the Apostle John recalls their footprints. Twice John noted that they labored steadfastly, endured and did tolerate evil. They even put to the test those who referred to themselves as apostles (but were not), when they discovered that they were false. This was the footprint they left for us…even though later Jesus notes that they had left their first love.
Beloved, whether you live in one place from birth to death or are like Paul, living out of a suitcase always on the go from place to place, you are leaving your footprint in the sands of time. Be encouraged to remain steadfast, enduring to the end that one day you may hear from the Savior: You have been faithful to the end, enter into my joy and my kingdom!
The wonder of seed propagation! Have you ever wondered where those new little trees or plants came from in your yard? We know from the study of science that our Creator has so designed our world that wind, water, feet of humans and animals become the transporting agents of seeds. This is a perfect illustration to show us how the seed of the gospel is transported by the anointed and empowered seed planters (you and me) through various ways and means to many places. In Acts 18 we learn of Pontus, Corinth, Macedonia, Italy or Priscilla and Aquila, Crispus, Sosthenes, and Apollos. Where are these places? Who are these people? Dr. Luke introduces them to us so that we may “see” people and places in action and secondly see how God transported his gospel seed then and glean lessons on how God does it today.
Seed drop in Corinth. The Jew Aquila, a native of Pontus [present day NW Turkey] recently came to Corinth with his wife Priscilla from Italy. Why he was in Italy is an unknown but we do learn just from vs 1 that he was a Jew and the Emperor Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Italy. In Acts 11 we learn that there was a famine in the time of Claudius’ reign. We also learn that Aquila was a tentmaker and Paul joined his business for it was customary that all rabbis have a trade. Later in this chapter we find them busy worshiping in Ephesus and teaching a gifted young expositor named Apollos.
Second seed drop Ephesus. When Paul left Corinth due to the jealous Jews charges, Priscilla and Aquila accompanied him. Paul did not stay in Ephesus but Priscilla and Aquila did and it was there that they met the gifted young expositor Apollos, a Hellenistic Jew from Alexandria, Egypt. Using their gifts of hospitality we learn that “they took him aside and explained the way of God to him more accurately” when they learned that he only knew of the baptism of John. After a time, the church in Ephesus graciously commended Apollos by letter to the church in Corinth where he became an effective teacher of the scriptures.
Why is all of this so important? God works in mysterious ways using people to transport His seed of the gospel message. It was through the faithfulness of such people as Paul, Priscilla and Aquila, Silas, Timothy, and Apollos the message of salvation had come to be known through all of what is modern day Greece and Turkey. Where has God used you to transport His gospel seed? Who did God place in your path that brought the good news of the gospel to you? Do you see each stop on your life’s journey as a “seed drop” for you to share the good news? Today, may we stop and praise God for faithful seed messengers.
Did you ever purchase a bag of apples which look beautiful on the outside but when you open one it is filled with rottenness? Or do you recall Snow White who took a bite of the apple that outwardly was beautiful but inwardly was filled with poison that caused her to fall into the sleeping death which could only be broken by the kiss of the prince? Unfaithfulness or infidelities are the poisons that rob us when we fail to be faithful to our vows. The effects are seen and felt both within ourselves but also in those we vowed to love till death do us part. “Mainstream sociologists would tell us that taking one’s faith very seriously—in word and deed—does indeed make a marked positive difference in the health and longevity of marriage.” [Gospel Coalition] It is not because they are perfect but they take their vows seriously in sharp contrast to the first century religious leaders who came to test Jesus in Matthew 19 on the question of divorce. But the problem of divorce did not begin there, it began where Jesus said: “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of your hard hearts, but from the beginning it was not this way.” Thus the real crux of marital infidelity begins in the heart. We see it in three ways:
- We fail to realize the ways of the enemy’s seducing power. We should be wary of this because we saw in the Garden of Eden how Satan seduced and then deceived Eve. The author of Proverbs begins: be attentive, pay close attention. Open your ear gate and incline it to listen with intent.
- We need to put safeguards around our emotions and our hearts lest the enemy draw us away through what looks inviting but only leads to death. Eve saw the fruit as good for food, would make her wise but failed to obey God’s warning not to eat from it. Snow White saw that the fruit was good for food but failed to see that the outer covering was deceptive. It was desirable but a beautiful outer covering shielded what lay within.
- We fail to recall the counsel of God or add to his words. Eve truly recalled that the tree was not to be eaten but she added not touch it. Truly Satan’s words are as seductive and smoother than olive oil but in the end bitter as wormwood which lead down to the well of spiritual death.
Failing to be attentive, failing to place safeguards around our marriages opens our ear and eye gates to the deception of the enemy’s ways. When we taste that which is forbidden we face the consequences as the Proverbs father told his son. Thus the father’s wise advice is to protect yourself in your youth lest your body be ravaged with sin’s poisons. Listen now so that one day you will not recall and say I hated the discipline of my father’s counsel, and my heart spurned reproof both by him and my teachers. Know this principle: “For the ways of a person are in front of the Lord’s eyes and the Lord weighs all that person’s paths.”
The bottom line begins here: Pro 4:23 Guard your heart with all vigilance, for from it are the sources of life. And Mar 12:33 “love God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” Today, whether you are married or single, divorced or in a remarriage know this: God is always willing to restore and bless the repentant. Will you purposefully choose to be faithful?
The animal kingdom teaches us much about behaviors, how we (animals and humans) act and react to conflict which is inevitable due to the fallen sin nature. Some of these behavior might be found lurking in our church body. For example; meet the shark- alias the dictator…do it my way or you will be my dinner; the woodpecker-alias nagging faultfinder–I look for your ‘bugs’ and come knocking over and over; the ants-alias team builders looking for ways to bring about resolution to problems by being steadfast to unify the Body of Christ. I am sure you have noted others in your community with similar nicknames and behaviors. There are at least one or more of these personalities in our midst today just as they were in Antioch in Acts 15. Their aliases are revealed as well as their motives.
First to surface were the legalists who arrived on the scene with supposed credentials from the Jerusalem church. They were the sharks and woodpeckers with these items on their agenda;: “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Translation: you are Gentiles and God only accepts Jews, so if you want to be saved you must do it the way it has been done for centuries. Second to surface were the busy ants of reconciliation and restoration; Barnabas and Paul. The sharks and woodpeckers nagged with their legalism but Barnabas and Paul sought to build unity. The sharks and woodpeckers insisted on circumcision and the Law of Moses for salvation. Paul and Barnabas insisted on faith alone. Clearly this was a problem that needed resolution and so the church wisely sought an outside mediator by sending all parties to Jerusalem to resolve the issue. In Acts 15 we learn the basics of how to resolve conflicts.
- Problem stated. They were received warmly until the sharks and woodpeckers rose up: “It is necessary to circumcise the Gentiles and to order them to observe the Law of Moses.” Point: You can’t change what has been done for centuries! Translation: Phariseeism.
- Gentle Reminder: After the sharks, woodpeckers and ants stated their “facts” Peter, who “Clearly recovered from his temporary lapse at Syrian Antioch,” (Gal. 2:11-14) [Dr. Constable] reminded them of God’s dealing in the past with Cornelius. He received the Holy Spirit without circumcision or the Law of Moses.
- Listening. The whole group kept quiet and listened to Barnabas and Paul
- The Mediator, James, reviewed what had been said; recalled biblical passages to show God’s plan; wrote a letter and sent it to the Antioch church with Silas and Judas.
- Reconciliation. When the letter was read the church rejoiced.
It seems from this crucial chapter that James formulated his own letter at a later date based on what he learned from this conflict. You can read his letter to glean his ideas and thoughts. Today perhaps you have woodpeckers, sharks and yes even ants in your church or family. May you resolve your conflicts as the early church using biblical steps. Our motive should be restoration not division lest we open the door to the enemy’s ways.
Roses and Thorns; ups and downs; wins and defeats; life at its best and its worst. King David as the leader of Israel faced both wins and challenges both in his kingship and in his personal walk with the Lord God Almighty. His psalms reveal the inner struggles he faced and where he turned when all of life was full of roses and when it was full of thorns. Remember the Transfiguration story in Matthew? It was there that the disciples, Peter, James and John had the privilege of seeing Jesus in all of his glory. It was there on the mountain top they also saw only the grandeur and vista of the heavens and the valleys below were a distant speck. Peter wanted to memorialize the beauty and never leave, but Jesus reminded the disciples that the valley below lay with unfinished work…the thorns like the faithless disciples unable to conquer the demon possessed boy. King David in Psalm 21 has been victorious in battle and his life is full of roses but in Psalm 22 we find life is also filled with thorns—the disappointments, the discouragement, when all of life “stink; when we have our “melt downs.”
Observe a life full of roses from David’s perspective, his mountain top day. O Lord, you give me strength, you deliver me, you have granted me my heart’s desire, and have not refused my request. I have rich blessings beyond number, a house full of children that will carry on my lineage, nations that bow down to me in reverence. All of this is because I have chosen to trust in you and Your faithfulness.
Psalm 22 is a sharp contrast and a day filled with thorns. It is here that David felt abandoned, alone in his prayer time. He wrote: I pray but my prayers are full of groaning and tears that do not let up. People, my fickle sons of the kingdom, are insulting me and despising me, taunting me and mocking me, they remind me that I am just a lonely man twisted as a worm. In times when I need their comfort, they instead are coming to me saying where is your God now?
We can relate to David’s days. Life changes, people are fickle and they come in and rearrange our things so that the order of our lives is altered, sometimes even down to the paper clips on our desks. We walk through our day and find our daily discipline challenging and the enemy’s words follow us in our minds from room to room. What is the solution when we have days filled with thorns? Take time and return to the mountain top to see the beauty of the Transfiguration, to see the beauty of the heavens and hear the words of God reminding us softly and tenderly that we need to listen, pay attention to His Son. Do as King David; reorient your day with prayer, meditation and rejoicing in the small victories that make life amongst the thorns bearable. Perhaps you are facing a day of thorns. Stop! Refocus your attention on the roses that are in full bud waiting to be opened.
Remember this: Roses are teaching that the beauty of life will bloom, once you have taught yourself the lessons given by living with the thorns.”[Deoudis]
We have walked alongside Peter from a small fishing village to a mountain top to his fearless preaching in the Temple. We have seen one who denied and yet was restored that he may lead the church in its beginning stages. We relate so much to Peter for his faltering steps are much like ours and our hearts yearn to meet him in glory! We have seen his impulsiveness and say, that is me. We see his denial and we say I have done the same once or twice. We see his love for Jesus when he said “if you are the Master, tell me come to you on the water.” And now in this chapter Dr. Luke will give us one more glimpse of his last days in Jerusalem with the exception of Acts 15. We find Peter in prison having earned the ire of Herod. And once again and as he has done before, Peter falls fast asleep. Peter it seems never has a problem with insomnia! He slept while Jesus prayed and He slept while Moses and Enoch talked with Jesus on the mountain. He just closes his eyes and falls asleep! This time, to be sure that Peter does not escape, Herod has him chained to guards in his prison. But man’s chains are no match for the saints’ prayers!
God is pleased with the saints’ prayers and often as he bends his ear to our words his heart is open to receive and answer as we beg. We must be like the Canaanite woman unwilling to give up but to seek an answer. When a brother or sister is imprisoned in some way, do we earnestly beg God for their deliverance according to His will or if truth be known is our mind here and there scattered with many thoughts or do we like Peter fall asleep on the watch? We would do well to take a lesson from these early believers whose very lives surrounded a lengthy time in earnest prayer. We remember what James wrote: “The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness.” Would that we be like the early church who pounded the doors of heaven for God to answer and deliver.
When Peter is released by an angelic visitor who had to shake him awake and lead him like a child outside the prison walls, we find him knocking at the door of where the believers were sequestered. He might have muttered: it was easier getting out of prison than getting into Mary’s house! Continuously knocking and finally gaining entrance the believers were astonished to see how God answered! Beloved, trust in the G.A.P. method…God Answers Prayers.
Barnabas, the man who impacted my life. God graciously places people into our lives for many reasons but the most memorable are those who come to us and leave with words of encouragement lasting upon our hearts. Barnabas was such a person. Born in Cyprus and living in Jerusalem, he so touched each life he crossed that he was given the nickname “son of encouragement.” Oh would that be our nickname instead of complainer, thankless or some other.
The dictionary defines encouragement as that which inspires courage or confidence. The early church faced many obstacles such as the distractions of the widow’s needs, the raging anger of Saul of Tarsus, the stoning of Stephen, and more. In spite of all this Barnabas was steady, always ready with a word to give courage to faltering hearts. He so loved the new foundling church that he sold his land and gave the proceeds for the church’s needs. And now in chapter 11 we find that the apostles sent him on a journey to check out the Cypriot believers in Antioch. He was fully prepared with language skills, familial ties, he knew the mannerisms and the ways of these brethren of his so he was the perfect choice. But, there is better reason: Barnabas “was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith,” Stop and think about that for a moment. To be full of the Holy Spirit means that he was demonstrating the Fruit of the Holy Spirit: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” [Gal 5] In addition his faith was his foundation and he lived and walked by this: “The righteous by faith will live.” [Rom 1] “You see that his faith was working together with his works and his faith was perfected by works.”[James 2].
It was because of Barnabas living out his faith through the Holy Spirit that many came to know the Lord. Who is the Barnabas in your life? Take time today to let them know, for the Barnabas’ of this world are usually the unassuming quiet behind the scenes people. And how about yourself, could you be a Barnabas to someone today?
How appropriate that today when the world stops and offers messages of love to one another we read a chapter that demonstrates what true love is through the lives of two men who earnestly desire to please God. Jesus had commanded his disciples to go to the uttermost part of the earth with the gospel message thus opening the door to all, Gentile and Jew…but the Jew was hesitant and so being a God of love He divinely orchestrated a meeting between a Gentile–Cornelius and Peter–a Jew, that His message of love may go forth.
We first meet Cornelius, a Roman Centurion, full of faith and charity to his fellow man. He was a man of prayer and a “God –fearer” and he walked in the revealed light that he had. It happened when he was in his prayer time that God sent one of his angelic visitors who directed him to send for Peter. It is obvious from this encounter that Cornelius did not know who Peter was but amazingly the Apostle Peter was in Joppa which is about 30 miles away. As Cornelius prayed, God was preparing Peter for his next day encounter with a Gentile. While Cornelius obeyed instantly the messenger of God, Peter was not so willing to obey as we hear him once again say “no Lord!” Thus God’s message had to be repeated three times and even then he didn’t get it. And so the Holy Spirit comes and boldly tells Peter, “get up, go down, and accompany them without hesitation, because I have sent them.” And he did.
In obedience Peter complies by welcoming the Gentiles, feeding them and giving them rooms to sleep all in obedience to the Holy Spirit. Think an angelic visitor watched over this house that night? Could be! On the next day Peter, along with 6 other Jews, accompany Cornelius’ two servants and the soldier to Caesarea where he would have the marvelous opportunity to share the gospel message and see Cornelius’ family all come to Christ. Here’s what we can learn from this chapter:
- God loves all men and desires that they all come to repentance as Isaiah wrote: “The Gentiles shall come to your light” [Is 60:1-3]
- God divinely orchestrates both receiver and giver that his message may go forth. He is the one who draws all men to himself “If I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself.” [Jn 12:23]
- God prepares the hearts of those seeking him and he prepares the heart of those bringing the message
- God is not partial to anyone but is willing that all come to him. Cornelius was a ‘good’ man but he was not a believer and thus he needed someone to show him “I AM the way, I AM the truth, I AM the life.” [Jn 16]
Where is God opening a door for you to share the good news to someone? Which man do most resemble? Will you step out in faith and obey?
On Jan 8, 1956 five missionaries were slain upon a riverbed in a small jungle area of Ecuador. The world wept and many asked why. Jim Elliot was one of those five and his words “he is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose” became the rallying cry for missions around the world. The truth of what Joseph said in Gen 50 “As for you, you meant to harm me, but God intended it for a good purpose, so he could preserve the lives of many people,” fanned the flames of missionary hearts. So too in Acts 8 what Satan desired to accomplish God used to bring the gospel of salvation to men, women and children to those whom the Jews had rejected—the Samaritans.
The Jews prejudice was clear and profound. We recall the words of James and John, who had prejudicial hearts in Luke 9, asking Jesus if they should call down fire upon the Samaritan village that did not welcome them. And yet Jesus walked and taught and prepared the way for just such a time as this. The Samaritan woman at the well and the parable of the Good Samaritan were his lessons to the disciples to open their eyes to their perception and their heart of prejudice. Yet Jesus saw them as kingdom people. Do we see others in this frame of reference?
As the waves of persecution swept over Jerusalem God touched the heart of Philip, one of the seven servants of God from Acts 6. He would become the instrument God would use to cross the barriers of prejudice to bring the message of salvation to the Samaritans. As the news traveled back to Jerusalem, Peter and John’s heart of prejudice would be challenged. Could it be that God will open the doors to these? Jesus had said: you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth” but the church had been slow in their progress to accomplish this. Did God allow this to move the church beyond the Temple, beyond Jerusalem? We may never be able to answer that question but we can see how God will use the evil intentions of Satan to bring about good thus once again teaching us this principle: Jer 29:11 “For I know what I have planned for you,’ says the Lord. ‘I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope.”
God does not let us rest but opens our eyes to see His marvelous message of salvation is offered to all. The Jerusalem church sent Peter and John to see. They may have come with hearts of doubt, perhaps unbelief but the evidence was clear: salvation had come to these Samaritans. It was such a profound lesson for them that as they journeyed back to Jerusalem they proclaimed the good news to many Samaritan villages. The words of Gamaliel were ringing forth…”but if it is from God, you will not be able to stop them, or you may even be found fighting against God.”
Where do you find that you are asking “why would God choose them?” instead of “why would He not choose them?” Are you hindering the work of the Lord God Almighty because of your heart of prejudice? Are you still in Jerusalem or have you moved to your Samaria so that His Word can ring forth the truth of His saving love and power?
The hymn “I Surrender All” is a testimony of one, who in obedience to the Holy Spirit, discovered that when we yield, God opens the fount of blessing that had been hidden in the cleft of the rock but shielded from view by our faltering steps. When God calls you to His side, one of the first things he does is ask you to step out in obedience to Him and then provides a test to see if we are worthy to be called his disciple. He calls you just as he did Abraham, Joseph, and Moses which was the text of Stephen’s message before the religious council. All of these biblical heroes of the faith stepped out in faith and yet each was tested that they might be found pure and holy in His sight. Where is God testing you at this moment in time? In what area has he called you to be a part of his work and you have yet to totally surrender?
The fruit does not fall far from the tree is an old saying that reflects the truth that even though we deny it, we more often than not are mimicking the examples of our forefathers and this was true of the religious leaders. Three false charges leads to one message: you are unbelieving rejecting Israelites just as of old. These religious leaders had the Promised Messiah in their very midst “Jesus the Nazarene, a man clearly attested to you by God with powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed among you through him, just as you yourselves know –“ [Acts]. With great power and miracles before their eyes still the Pharisees and Sadducees came to test Jesus and asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He rightly answered “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.”
After the death of Jesus, three times now these religious leaders have had the extended hand of mercy from God as they have witnessed the outpouring of the Holy Spirit of which they had not received, through the healing of the lame man and the power of the Word in Peter and John and now in Stephen. This will be God’s extended hand of mercy yet again as anointed Stephen revealed their true uncircumcised heart and ears as they continued to resist the Holy Spirit just as their ancestors did.
Beloved, when God presents opportunities to be His witness are we as anointed, prepared and courageous as Stephen? Are we ready to be a martyr for Jesus? But even more importantly, when and if we are called to stand for Christ are we not only willing but able to say: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!”?
Beloved, are you totally surrendered to Jesus?